Sam Ehlinger‘s promising preseason came to a halt Friday night, and the rookie quarterback will miss time due to injury. Ehlinger suffered an ACL sprain, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter). Although he will not require surgery, a five-week absence will be expected, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.
While exams not revealing a full tear represents good news for the Colts, who have seen positive signs from their sixth-round rookie this summer, the team now has less protection in the event Carson Wentz is not ready to play in Week 1. Ehlinger andJacob Eason were vying for Indianapolis’ backup job; Eason appears set to win that by default.
Ehlinger completed 3 of 3 passes Friday before exiting the game late in the first half with the knee issue. Eason completed 10 of 14 passes for 74 yards. The Texas product had moved up to split first-team practice reps with Eason during training camp, putting himself in position to be a September stopgap starter in the event Wentz could not go. Now, Ehlinger will be a candidate to begin the season on IR. The Colts could stash Ehlinger there and activate him when he recovers, but they would need to carry him onto their 53-man roster after Tuesday’s cutdown day to do so.
Wentz returned to practice this week and continues to progress toward a Week 1 return from foot surgery, joining Quenton Nelson in that regard. This would allow the Colts to dodge a bullet. They refrained from bringing in a veteran to fill Wentz’s post while he rehabbed, instead entrusting Eason and Ehlinger. Brett Hundley is also on Indy’s roster, but he last started a game in 2017.
7:45pm: As Holder reports, Wentz was at practice today with no protection on his foot and no obvious limp. Reich called Wentz’s outlook “very encouraging,” and regardless of how the Ehlinger/Eason battle plays out, it doesn’t sound like either young passer will be holding the reins too long.
12:32pm: The Colts have thus far opted against acquiring a veteran to run their offense while Carson Wentz rehabs, and the team will begin giving rookie Sam Ehlingera longer look to fill the post.
Ehlinger has worked his way into the mix here, with Frank Reich indicating Tuesday (via The Athletic’s Stephen Holder, on Twitter) the sixth-round pick has looked good enough in practice to split first-team reps with Jacob Eason. Eason will start the Colts’ first preseason game, but Reich adds (via ESPN.com’s Mike Wells, on Twitter) the second-year QB and Ehlinger will split starter reps in the team’s joint practices against the Panthers on Thursday and Friday.
While Ehlinger has outplayed Eason during Colts camp, this does mark a bit of a change from the team’s view of its current quarterback situation. Reich said last week Eason would remain in the driver’s seat for the role, despite Ehlinger impressing early. Now, the two appear to be in a true competition.
A four-year starter at Texas, Ehlinger was the 10th quarterback off the board this year. The No. 218 overall pick does bring considerably more game work than Eason, who transferred from Georgia to Washington but declared for the draft after one season as the Huskies’ starter. Ehlinger threw 1,476 passes with the Longhorns. Eason, Georgia’s primary starter in 2016, attempted 782 in college. The latter, however, was viewed slightly better through an NFL lens and became a 2020 fourth-round pick. Eason has yet to take a snap in a game, with the COVID-19 pandemic nixing last year’s preseason slate and Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett ahead of him on Indy’s 2020 depth chart.
This year’s Colts QB hierarchy may involve Wentz in the not-too-distant future. Initially given a vague five- to 12-week timetable to recover from foot surgery, Wentz will be re-evaluated in two weeks, per Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer, who adds the Colts are expecting him to return on the front end of this timetable (video link). As of now, the team envisions its preferred starter to be back early in the season.
The Colts could stash Wentz on IR to start the year, carrying him onto their 53-man roster and parking him on the injured list for at least three weeks. However, Wentz hitting the front end of his rehab timetable would likely induce the Colts to keep him on their active roster and play this week-to-week.
According to Stephen Holder of The Athletic, sixth-round rookie Sam Ehlinger has performed better than Eason in training camp, prompting reporters to ask head coach Frank Reich if he might consider elevating Ehlinger to QB1 status.
“Fair question, because [Ehlinger] has looked good,” Reich said. “But, right now, our plan is to put Jacob in the driver’s seat. Sam is getting a lot of reps. They’ll keep competing. This is a competition. … Jacob is making good progress as well.”
Holder concedes that Eason has demonstrated improvement, but he says Ehlinger has generally looked like the stronger passer, especially when it comes to throwing with anticipation. And while Eason has the arm strength and size that Ehlinger lacks, Ehlinger’s athleticism is superior to that of his counterpart (which might prove critical given that the Colts’ O-line is presently without several starters).
Indianapolis’ preseason opener is set for August 15, and it sounds as if Eason will keep working with the first-team offense up to and through that game. But if Ehlinger continues to play better, Reich could be forced to make a switch.
This is a prime opportunity for both young passers. The Colts, who went into the summer with championship aspirations, hope one of Eason or Ehlinger can at least keep the club afloat until Wentz returns.
Indianapolis is also rostering Brett Hundley, but the former Packers draftee is not a candidate to be Wentz’s replacement.
While Jacoby Brissett was asked to start in 2017 and 2019, he gave the Colts a high-end backup quarterback during their most recent two playoff seasons. But Brissett’s four-year Indianapolis tenure is done; he is now in Miami.
Chris Ballard indicated discussions of backstopping Wentz with a more experienced passer have taken place. But the Colts want to go with one of their young QBs in this role.
“That’s a great question. It’s one we’ve definitely thought about,” Ballard said of adding a veteran backup, via Fox 59’s Mike Chappell. “Let’s get through the preseason. Let’s see where we are. We want one of these young guys to be the guy. We think they can. We’ll keep working through that.”
Carson Wentzhas run into a few notable injury issues during his career. After missing time during his senior season at North Dakota State, Wentz tore multiple knee ligaments to end his 2017 MVP bid. A back injury then ended Wentz’s 2018 season. He suffered a concussion in the Eagles’ 2019 wild-card loss to the Seahawks. It would certainly make sense for the Colts to add here, but for now, Eason — Georgia’s 2016 starter and Washington’s QB1 in 2019 — is the guy.
The free agent market houses a few notable names. Journeyman Brian Hoyer, whom the Colts used as Brissett’s backup in 2019, is available. So are Robert Griffin III, Brett Hundley and Sean Mannion, multiyear backups in Baltimore, Arizona and Minnesota, respectively. Nick Mullens played more than each during his backup stay in San Francisco, but he is recovering from elbow surgery.
Another big name college quarterback is off the board. With pick No. 218 in the sixth-round, the Colts have drafted Texas passer Sam Ehlinger. Indianapolis acquired the pick from the Saints earlier Saturday.
Ehlinger didn’t generate a ton of excitement as a pro prospect, but as the Longhorns’ leader for the past four seasons he became very well known to college football fans. He threw for 2,566 yards, 26 touchdowns and five interceptions this past year, picking up a second-team All-Big 12 nod in the process.
He became the 10th signal-caller drafted in the 2021 draft. He’ll now join a Colts quarterback room that doesn’t have much in it beyond Carson Wentz. Only 2020 UDFA Jalen Morton and 2020 fourth-round pick Jacob Eason are currently on the roster behind Wentz. The Colts have rotated quarterbacks ever since Andrew Luck retired, so it’s not surprising they’re taking developmental flyers.